You have handed in your notice at work and dropped everything to go backpacking the world. It’s time to plan and pack. The world is your oyster. All of a sudden though, fear sets in. Where to go? What do you need? Can you handle it? What will it be like? Will you be homesick?
I pretty much made every mistake. But dear reader, you can learn from my errors when you begin your adventure backpacking the world.
Before you set off, there a few things you need to do.
Documents That You’ll Need When Backpacking the World
Of all the documents you’ll need to monitor, your passport is by far the most important. And, of course, I didn’t, failing to renew my own passport because I believed I would only be traveling for two months. I ended up being gone six. And this was one of the biggest reasons why I cut my trip short.
Ensure your passport is valid with sufficient time to extend your trip if you need to. Check your passport has more than a year on it from your planned return date. That’s if you want to come home!
Take any, and all, identification with you: ID cards, driving licences, etc. This can come in handy in the most unexpected situations. If there is an emergency, or if you need some way to prove your identity, an ID can quickly resolve the situation – even when confronted with a language barrier
Other Documents You Might Have Forgotten
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is not vital, but very useful, when backpacking the world. A lot of countries, especially in Asia, have very lax scooter/moped/motorbike regulations. In places with relaxed driving laws, you don’t necessarily need an IDP when renting bikes. However, if you have neither an IDP nor a motorbike licence, you may be left open to arrest and/or a hefty fine. You can apply through your local driving agency. For example, I applied at the British Post Office.
Some countries and/or regions also require a yellow fever certificate to enter. Even if it is not required, I recommend obtaining the vaccination and its certificate just in case! Don’t let ignoring a vaccine prevent you from an incredible experience.
The best way to check if you need a visa before you travel is through your country’s Foreign Office/State Department. Alternatively, you can contact the embassy or consulate of the country you are about to visit as well.
When I think of vaccinations, I feel queasy. They are unsettling, costly, and, let’s be honest, no fun. However, they are necessary for your health abroad and backpacking the world. There are other vaccines in addition to yellow fever that are also strongly recommended when travelling abroad, such as the typhoid vaccine, the hepatitis A vaccine, etc. Depending on which country you are based in, the prices of the vaccination and administration do vary. For more information on vaccines, please consult your local health authorities and doctor before traveling.
I cannot stress the importance of having the appropriate vaccinations before you begin backpacking the world or traveling abroad. That is because I have personally dealt with vaccinations abroad and have heard others’ horror stories. Not only can it be a challenge when it comes to receiving treatment, but also when figuring out payment. Paying for vaccines abroad is something to think about, especially if you do not have adequate travel insurance.
Some backpackers gamble by opting out. However, if you do choose to forgo travel insurance, you run the risk of amassing hefty prices for treatment abroad. Not only does travel insurance protect you from serious financial hits in an emergency, it can also give you peace of mind while having fun on your adventure.
Travel insurance has a bunch of fine print. Make sure you read what it actually covers. Many companies do not protect you practicing activities such as scooter/moped rentals and extreme sports. Read it a couple of times to make sure you understand your policy. Knowing what your insurance does and does not cover could influence decisions you make abroad.
So You Think You Are Ready To Travel
So you have your vaccinations, your travel documents and your travel insurance. Now what?
Do research on the country you’re visiting. Learn about their local customs, laws, appropriate clothing, any potential scams, currency, public transport, and safety. Personally, I found Lonely Planet a great help. You can also find their books in most bookshops. Tripadvisor was also helpful especially in prioritising the sights I wanted to take in. Also, consult your government’s official websites to learn more about the country you are about to visit.
Recommended Apps & Websites
While there are still many remote and untouched areas where there is little or no evidence of modern technology, that doesn’t mean to say you have to go without. These really useful apps will help every backpacker:
- Maps.me – Mobile offline maps. This app allows you to download offline maps of the regions you are about to visit. In some areas, it can be more accurate than Google Maps.
- There are now apps where you can transfer money easily from your phone. These apps connect directly to your home bank account with no withdrawal fees. They use the account’s debit card to make card payments abroad and can withdraw money from most local ATM machines. It’s important to note, however, that there can be limits to the amount of money you’re able to withdraw per month. Apps such as Starling Bank, Monzo, and Revolut are all good options.
- Although Uber is now known across the globe, some countries tend to have their own cheaper and more popular rideshare apps. An example of this is Grab (Southeast Asia) or Ola (India). This, of course, depends on the country you’re visiting.
Apps for Booking
- Scan websites such as Agoda, Booking.com, and Hostelworld for the best deals on rooms and accomodations. To learn more about booking rooms abroad, check out Morgan’s Guide to Hotels, Hostels, and Accomodations Abroad. I also found that in some countries (such as India) there was an ‘online’ price and a price you haggle on arrival. This was, usually a price difference of about 15%, which I believe can be attributed to the cut these websites took per booking. If you choose not to reserve online ahead of time, you run the risk of arriving at a hostel or hotel only to find it’s fully booked, leaving you searching for another place to spend the night. These websites can also help in finding great deals. For example, in Asia, hostel prices tended to vary between $3 to $8 USD.
- For cheap plane tickets, browse websites such as Skyscanner, Ryanair, easyJet, Air Asia, and Secret Flying. These sites have great deals and can get you where you need to go.
- Annoyingly, most countries, especially when travelling by air, want proof of exit. This can be challenging if you do not know which country you will be going to after. Fortunately, Expedia (for some flights) has a 24-hour free cancellation policy.
- Some countries have a “visa-on-arrival” policy. Laos is one such country. Make sure you carry a sufficient amount of USD in cash.
- Pack light. Depending on the weather of countries you are going to visit, you only need a few days’ worth of clothes. Anything you need, you can always buy abroad. If you’re going to a hot country like I did, you’ll only need about four shirts, two pairs of shorts, socks, boxers, and maybe a pair of jeans. Think of the weight of your backpack while you’re packing. The heavier it is, the more bulk you will have to constantly lug around!
- Before I set off on my journey, I believed that the standard of medicine abroad would not be of the same standard as home. To prepare, I bought loads of pharmaceutical products that quite frankly I didn’t need. While mosquito repellent and IMODIUM® are definitely a necessity, everything else can be bought while abroad for a cheaper price.
- Always carry toilet paper. Not all toilets have it or even western-style toilet seats. Be prepared.
- Buy a local SIM card. As much as I would like to think that I can do without mobile data, it does make life easier. You can buy SIM cards at an airport. If you’d rather skip the airport, you can usually buy cheaper SIM cards in electronics shops in towns and cities. However, be aware that countries such as India are very bureaucratic and the process of getting a SIM card can be a bit lengthy.
- Buy a hand-sized travel towel that is easy to carry. The towel should be light and will dry much quicker than a regular bath towel.
Food and Water
- Bring a water bottle with a filter. If you drink as much water as me, you may be out of reach of bottled water and will need a back-up pretty quickly. Also, it will probably save you from a few unwanted illnesses.
- If you are reading this from a ‘western’ country and are traveling to a ‘developing’ country, it is, unfortunately, true that water and some hygiene standards are not what they are back home. I recommend easing your way into the thick of things by being careful what you drink and eat. Look to see if the restaurant is clean and if the food is in a refrigerator before eating.
- Try street food! This is far cheaper and tends to be better than fast food. It has a bit of local flair and often supports small business owners.
Once You Get There
- Ask the locals the best places to visit, eat, and drink. Talk to the staff at your hostel/hotel. And reach out to your fellow travelers. If you are reading this from a Western country and are traveling to a ‘developing country,’ it is, unfortunately, true that water and some hygiene standards are not what they are back home. I recommend easing your way into the thick of things by being careful of what you drink and eat. Look to see if the restaurant or food stand is clean and hygienic.
- Eat street food! This is far cheaper and a better option as far as local flavors go. Not only does the food have a bit of local flair, it often supports small business owners.
If you believe I have missed anything, please leave a comment in the comments section.
Have safe and enjoyable travels backpacking the world.